To Cut Or Not To Cut

As reported by Space News in, Garver Battle Over Obama Plan Imperils NASA Budget Growth, the statements of the Deputy Administrator to NASA supporters is that the in-fighting over Constellation could jeopardize NASA’s proposed budget growth. In other words, “Cut Constellation or your program may get cut”.

Think of it this way: If you are focused on getting the Constellation budget continued in the future — and I harbor no ill will against those of you who do … but if Constellation is put back in the budget without that $5 billion-a-year increase, where will we cut the budget?

As for those programs that NASA’s Deputy Administrator says will be cut, what this really means, e.g. in the case of NASA’s Science budget, is that the proposed budget increase of $513M over 2010 from $4.493B to $5.005B, as currently proposed in the Administration’s 2011 NASA budget, will not be realized. Instead, based on the Administration’s 2010 NASA budget, Science programs will see a more modest increase in their budget in 2011 of $254M from $4.493B to $4.747B. The difference between the two budget increases is $258M. Not that $258M is anything to sneeze at, but it is only a 5.5% increase over the expected 2011 budget based on last year’s NASA budget from the Administration.

According to the Augustine Committee Final Report, page 84, to continue to support the International Space Station beyond 2015 will require an extra $14B from 2016 through 2020 or$3.5B annually, beginning in 2016. Not today. Not this year. Not next year. Or the year after. In 2016.

Furthermore, there are very few reliable numbers for the cost of extending the Space Shuttle beyond its retirement in 2011. But those that are bandied about are in the $1.5B – $2.5B range for up to 2 or 4 flights a year.

One interesting thing not touched on by NASA’s Deputy Administrator is upside for Constellation in continuing the Shuttle program.

According to the Augustine Committee’s Final Report, p. 50, the fixed costs of the Shuttle program are $1.5B yearly and include 90% of the cost of running Kennedy Space Center, the engine test facility at Stennis Space Center, Mission Control at Johnson Space Center, and the Michoud facility in Louisiana. The current plan under Constellation was for that program to assume those costs when the Shuttle is retired. Should the Shuttle program continue, and the above costs continue to be expensed against the Shuttle program, Constellation would, in the perverse world that is government accounting, experience a budget increase of about $1.1B during the period that the Shuttle program is active. An extra $1.1B would certainly accelerate Constellation’s, really Ares I’s, development.

Most importantly, but seemingly ignored by those in the Obama Administration who wrote NASA’s 2011 budget, the Augustine Committee did not recommend terminating the Constellation program. Indeed, one of its observations, on page 96 of its Final Report, was that continuing Constellation with a $3B annual increase over the Administration’s proposed 2010 budget of $3.3505B would result in meaningful human exploration. Remembering that Congress increased the 2010 Constellation budget by $95M to $3.6B, the amount needed based on the Augustine Committee is $2.9B. If the Shuttle program is continued, resulting in possible savings of $1.1B, the Augustine Committee’s number of $3B goes down to $1.8B. We find it difficult to believe that if the Administration wanted to find $1.8B in additional funding for Constellation, that it would have trouble doing so given the growing support in Congress for continuing the program.

…the Committee found that the Orion should continue to be developed as a capable crew exploration vehicle, regardless of the decision on Ares I. Likewise, it should be emphasized that the Committee did not find any insurmountable technical issues with Ares I. With time and sufficient funds, NASA could develop, build and fly the Ares I successfully. — Review of the U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee Final Report, p. 86

So, it turns out that if the Shuttle program were continued and funds appropriated, as is in the current Hutchison space bill, not only will NASA’s many other programs and efforts not experience cuts (only in Washington is a decrease in a rate of increase considered a cut), but ISS will continue to fly through 2020 and the Constellation program could see an real budget increase of just over a billion dollars. To AmericaSpace, this looks like a win-win for our nation’s space program.

(Via Space News.)

Following criticism, Obama to host NASA forum on ‘next steps’…somewhere in Florida

Understanding the Augustine Report